Próvolo victims hope priests' sentences send Pope Francis a message
"This is a watershed case for society, justice, the victims and also for the Church," warns bishop, as victims demand Pope Francis take note of historic abuse case at Provólo Institute in Luján de Cuyo.
The Argentine victims of two priests sentenced to more than 40 years in prison for sexually abusing deaf children at a Catholic-run school hope Pope Francis takes note of the historic message delivered in his homeland.
Survivors of the abuse at the Antonio Provólo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Luján de Cuyo, a municipality in northwestern Argentina, are waiting for Francis' reaction to this week's verdict.
They say the priests should be made to "resign directly by the Holy Father," the maximum punishment imposed by the Roman Catholic Church.
"This is a watershed case for society, justice, the victims and also for the Church," said Bishop Sergio Buenanueva, head of the Pastoral Council for the Protection of Vulnerable Minors and Adults in the Argentine Synod.
The sentences handed down Monday by the three-judge panel in the city of Mendoza – the longest ever imposed on clergy in Argentina – sent "a strong message to the Church," Buenanueva said.
The Reverend Nicola Corradi, an 83-year-old Italian, was given 42 years and the Reverend Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old Argentine, got 45 years. They were arrested in 2016. The panel also sentenced Armando Gómez, a gardener at the institute, to 18 years in prison.
It's expected that Corradi will remain under house arrest because of his age, while Corbacho and Gómez will be held at a prison in Mendoza. The verdicts can be appealed.
The judges found the men guilty of 20 counts of abuse, including rape, that occurred between 2005 and 2016 at the school, which has since shut down. The 10 victims were former students and all minors at the time of the abuse.
Buenanueva said he expects the Church to defrock the priests.
The case has shocked Argentines -–as did the revelation that Corradi had been previously accused of similar offences at a sister agency, the Antonio Próvolo Institute in Verona, Italy, but was never charged.
The Vatican had known about Corradi since at least 2009, when the Italian Próvolo students went public with tales of abuse and named names. The Vatican ordered an investigation and sanctioned four accused priests, but Corradi apparently never was punished in Italy.
The defendants had pleaded innocence and declined to make statements.
The Archbishopric of Mendoza expressed "solidarity and closeness with the victims and their families, who have reported suffering the most aberrant mistreatment."
Simon, the investigator sent by the Vatican, had previously told AP the pontiff expressed his sadness about the case and said that "he was very worried about this situation."
In a report submitted earlier to the Vatican, Simon requested that Corradi and Corbacho be made to "resign directly by the Holy Father." His report must be reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Former male and female students testified that the priests touched and raped them in their dormitories and school bathrooms. They also said they were forced to look at pornographic images. They said they were warned to keep quiet.
Investigators found records of complaints made by parents that weren't followed up, photographs of a naked girl on Corbacho's computer and chains he allegedly used to subdue one girl.
Corradi's name appeared again in 2014 in a letter written to the pope by deaf students in Verona that reiterated the potential danger he posed in Mendoza.
Corradi is also being investigated in the province of Buenos Aires, where alleged abuses occurred in the Provolo Institute of the city of La Plata. The priest ended up there after Verona, but before he went to Mendoza.